Summer of Psalms

Summer of Psalms

by Matt Townsley

Growing up, the Memorial Day weekend indicated the beginning of
summer in the Townsley household.  It meant the school year was wrapping up and warm clothes were being traded in for cut offs and tank tops (yes, I was a child of the ’80s and ’90s).  Because of the pandemic, this summer may seem a bit different for many of us –spending time at the city pool is still up in the air and/or the sports season is still in question.

Regardless of our perspective on things opening up too soon or not soon enough, one thing is for certain– COVID-19 has stirred up A LOT of emotions among us.  This is why I am so excited to kick-off our “Summer of Psalms” blog.

Many scholars believe the book of Psalms was written by two authors who both express a wide variety of emotions to or about God.  Whether crying out to in distress because the thought of watching your kids for another few months seems unbearable or feeling overjoyed the family trip out state was postponed, we can all relate to at least one of the 150 chapters in this Old Testament book.

This week, we are taking a look at Psalm 118:1-4 which reads:

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let Israel say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.” (ESV)

Note the first verse in which the author (likely King David) sings praises to God for his love that endures forever.  And in the next verses, the author suggests who ought to be singing these praises: an entire nation (Israel), the priests (house of Aaron) and anyone else (those who fear the Lord) which includes you and me!

Yet, when summer plans have been changed, loved ones seem so far away via FaceTime and Zoom, and washing hands fifteen (or is it fifty?) times per day is getting old, it can be hard to sing praises to God.

Within the first verse, I see an important phrase, “for he is good.” We can give thanks to God because of who he is and that “who” never changes. Here at Riverwood, Erin frequently reminds us to “live like Jesus lived and love like Jesus loves.” According to 1 John 4:7-8, the love we have for others is an outpouring of God’s love for us. When we (and that “we” includes me) consider how much God loves us, we will praise Him regardless of the circumstances.

Will you join me in a simple summer challenge?
Beginning June 1 and ending July 31, send a text or email to someone who will keep you accountable.

In that simple daily message, note two things:
1)a truth about God to give thanks, and 2)something else for which you’re thankful.
As we give daily thanks this summer, I believe this challenge has the potential to remind us that “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Peace in God’s Limitlessness

By Erin Bird

This week, we conclude our series in Job 38 by looking at verses 19-21, which say:

19 Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
20 that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
21 You know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!

(Job 38:19-20 ESV)

During our little trip through the first half of Job 38, we’ve seen God get a bit sarcastic with Job. But in case you haven’t noticed the sarcasm previously, or just don’t want to admit God would mock someone, verse 21 basically obliterates your attempts to make God sound like a heavenly Tellytubby. I used the English Standard Version (ESV) above, but go ahead and look at whatever translation you want: God is sarcastically mocking Job. Why? Because He wants Job to fully appreciate just how different Job and God really are.

And what is the primary difference God points out to Job in these three verses? That Job is limited, but God is not.

First, we see Job was limited to earth. He had no idea “the way to the dwelling of light or the place of darkness.”

Second, Job was limited in power. He couldn’t pick up the darkness and carry it to it’s home.

And third, Job was limited in time. God sarcastically points out that Job has not had nearly the same length of time in the universe God has.

This is why (as we’ve already seen in this series) that God points out Isaiah 55:8 that His ways are not like our ways and His thoughts are no where close to being like our thoughts. Our ways and thoughts are like Job – limited. But God does not possess the same limits we do. As we’ve been seeing through this entire series, God is not limited in His wisdom, understanding, power, and existence.

And so we may not know…

  • what Sunday mornings will look like when we re-gather…
  • what the economy will do over the next several months…
  • if we will get sick with COVID-19…
  • or if a loved one will pass from the dreaded virus…

…because we are limited. But we can know that God is limitless, and out of His limitlessness, He can carry us and give us peace in the midst of these uncertain days.

So join me in trusting our limitless God, who loves us without limit and can grant us peace without limit.

Peace in God’s Consistency

By Erin Bird

In this series, we are looking at the topic of peace through God’s self-descriptions in Job 38.

This week we come to verses 12 & 13, which say,

12 Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
13 that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?

Job 38:12-13 ESV

More Reliable than a Sunrise

Last week, I mentioned the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the deadliest tsunami on record. How deadly? Over 200,000 people died among 14 different countries.

I remember shortly after the tsunami having a conversation with a young adult who was struggling with his faith, and the tsunami was wrecking his faith even further. “How could a good God allow something like that?!?!” was the angry question rattling around his brain and tumbling out of his lips.

I remember answering, “I don’t know why God would allow that to happen. But if you are going to blame God for the tsunami, then you also have to give Him credit for all the days without tsunamis. If you want Him to get the credit for the devastating things, then you are going to also have to give Him credit for all the great things as well.”

sunrise over an Iowa fieldTsunamis, tornados, hurricanes, and droughts can be awful. Yet, you are far more likely to experience a sunrise than a devastating geological event. An earthquake is an every-once-in-a-while type event. Yet like clockwork, everyday the sun comes up in the east, travels across the sky, and settles in the west in the evening.

As you saw in verses 12 & 13 of Job 38, God takes credit for the daily sunrise and sunset. Since God created the earth and began its spin around its axis, God has consistently made sure the sun rises and sets each day for all of humanity.

I suspect you are a bit like me and are more prone to trust people who display consistency than people who are erratic. One of the definitions for the word integrity is “internal consistency.” God is full of integrity. He is consistent – far more consistent than any human could ever hope to be.

Because He is more reliable than even the sunrise, He can be trusted. And my hope is that this trust in God’s integrity will fill you with peace. Because you know the sun will still rise tomorrow, you can emotionally and spiritually rest. You can set aside your worry, knowing God’s consistency means He will still be on His heavenly throne when this pandemic has ended.

God’s Presence Brings True Joy

by Erin Bird

Well, it’s here – the last gasp before the school year begins. Teachers reported back to the classroom this past Monday here in the Waverly-Shell Rock district and students show up tomorrow. Surrounding districts are starting around this same time as well. If you are a Jesus-follower, would you just take a moment to pray for the students, teachers, staff, and administrators of your local school system?

Also, Wartburg students are starting to show up. Many fall athletes are already on campus, freshmen and transfer students show up next week with returning students not far behind. Their classes begin on Wednesday, Sept 4. Would you join me in praying for the students, staff, and faculty? Also, pray God would give Riverwood the joy of loving on and investing in some Wartburg students this year.

Continuing Our Series

Last week, I began a new blog series based on a prayer found in the book Gospel by J.D. Greear. If you need a refresher, here is the prayer:

“Heavenly Father, in Christ, I know there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less. Help me realize Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy. Just as you have been to me, so I will be to others. And Heavenly Father, as I pray, help me measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.”

Last week, we looked at the first phrase, which means this week I want to take a few moments to look at that second sentence: “Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy.”

Finding Joy, Fading Joy

If you have ever been infatuated with a boyfriend or girlfriend, you know the joy you found just by being with that special person. You didn’t have to have big plans to go do something in order to have fun. Simply hanging out, eating food, and even watching stupid movies was enough to make you happy.

But even if you marry that special person, more times than not, the feeling fades. There’s a house that needs cleaned, bills that need paid, and careers that need attention. No longer is the simple presence of the other person enough. The joy you felt during the early days of dating has faded.

This leads many people to search for joy in other places. Some look for it in a hobby, others in a sports team, some through vacations, some through their career, and unfortunately some look for joy in the arms of another person.

This sad story parallels what happens in many spiritual lives. Some people, when they believe the gospel, find such joy just being in God’s presence. If you follow Jesus, perhaps that was your experience. Do you remember it? Singing to Jesus, talking to Him in prayer, even reading the Scripture were such effortless tasks because it was more about God’s presence than anything else.

But then life happened. You got asked to do nursery duty at church, or recruited to serve at the Food Bank, or your co-worker dumped their emotional burdens on you, or the kids got sick, or the bill collectors kept calling, or you got extremely tired of that one song being played over and over on the radio, and eventually the joy you felt in God’s presence waned.

For many people, when their joy in Jesus fades, they turn to other things: Netflix, shopping, dating relationships, work, substances… anything that might give them some spark of happiness. But as we all know, the joy of these “idols” wanes even more.

So what is Jesus-follower to do?

Keep Going with the Gospel

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Jesus-followers in Colassae, writes “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” (Colossians 2:6)

Now, if you follow Jesus, re-read that verse, and as you do, ask yourself: How did you receive Jesus? The answer is “Through the Gospel!” So next ask: how are you to “walk in him” (i.e. follow Jesus)? Again, the answer is “Through the Gospel!”

In other words, as you keep peering into the Gospel, studying it, contemplating it, treasuring it, and thanking God for it, you realize the significant sacrifice Jesus made for you through the cross shows how much He loves you. And when you realize just how much He loves you, you find you WANT to be in His presence, for it alone gives you everlasting joy.

Getting Off the Approval Treadmill

But J.D.’s prayer doesn’t just say that God’s presence is all we need for everlasting joy. It says that God’s presence and approval are what we need.

You know, it’s funny: us humans spend so much time chasing joy in anything but God, yet we feel shackled by some sort of internal religiosity. We screw up – we drink too much, or blurt out Jesus’ name in vain, or think really evil thoughts against someone, or spread some unfounded gossip or watch some videos we know we shouldn’t view – so we try to make it up with God by going to church, or posting a Bible verse on social media, or spending some time reading the Bible, or even donating some money to the poor widow down the street. It makes us feel a little better about ourselves (which means God must be feeling a little better about us as well, right?). But then we screw up again, and the cycle continues.

It’s like we are caught on an approval treadmill – trying to get closer to God by earning His approval, but due to our sinful screw ups, we don’t seem to be making any progress.

If this is you, listen up: There is nothing you can do to earn more of God’s approval. God’s approval of you isn’t based on anything you do, rather it is based upon what Jesus has done. This is the scandal of grace.

Our spiritual enemy tries to whisper to us that God isn’t happy with us, and that we have to somehow re-earn His trust and affection. “If I am going to please God, I have to do more religious things,” we think to ourselves. But the doctrine of atonement corrects this lie by teaching us that when God looks at those who believe in Jesus, He doesn’t see their sin, He sees the righteousness of Christ. This is what the Apostle Paul expressed in Philippians 3:8-9:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

Paul knew his religious efforts to please God fell completely short of simply knowing Jesus. Instead, he needed to accept Christ’s death on the cross for him, and allow the righteousness of Jesus be counted as his righteousness. Because of what Christ did, Paul knew he had God’s approval, and so therefore he could experience full joy.

So if you are a Jesus-follower, may you this week pray to God, thanking Him that His presence and approval is all you need for everlasting joy!

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